Resource Review: “Ready, Set, Novel!” by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit

Resource Review: “Ready, Set, Novel!” by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit

Full Title: Ready, Set, Novel! Plan and Plot Your Upcoming Masterpiece

baty3

Author: Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit from National Novel Writing Month

Published: October 2011 by Chronicle Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Books & Writing, Writing Fiction, Authorship, Writing Skills

Edition Details: 160 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – New}

Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

Woohoo! It’s a NaNoWriMo workbook! I love workbooks!

In all seriousness, this was the last NaNoWriMo-specific book on my list. I mostly bought it to complete the NaNoWriMo mini collection.

Positive Bits

The NaNoWriMo team really did create a workbook for writers that fits the formatting of the event itself. These are the hands-on activities I said were missing in the previous books; in fact, I’m surprised they didn’t make a combination set somewhere along the way.

I love the playful attitude of this workbook. There’s a page that’s literally a high five, and you’re supposed to celebrate your successes by slapping the hand on the page. There’s also a boot for your “kick in the pants” as needed. Silly, but cute!

For a newbie writer with little or no experience with creating characters from scratch, I think the activities focused on that process are particularly helpful. When I was younger, I basically kidnapped the personality of people close to me (while changing their names). The workbook gives you more thorough activities for character building.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’m not sure this book is useful if you’ve written multiple stories in the past. Many of the activities are super simplified processes that you internalize as you grow, and that makes this workbook feel less helpful than I’d hoped it to be.

Workbooks, by their very nature, have little actual writing in them. There’s tons of blank space for the person actually doing the work. That said, I sprinted through this book and found myself disappointed at how short it was outside of the times you were supposed to pause your reading and do an exercise.

It’s a silly complaint, but I prefer workbooks that are bound in a way that allows easier use. The spine on this book (while new) is very stiff, so actually writing in the workbook itself would be irritating until you broke it in. There’s not much to do about that, though, unless the publisher wanted to use the thinner paper and binding of a traditional school workbook instead of trade paperback binding methods.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

*Note: I didn’t have a lot of quote to share, because this workbook is mostly a collection of exercises that don’t lend themselves to epic quotability.

The hardest part is behind you. Your story is here. Your characters are waiting. It’s time for the next phase of this bookish adventure to begin. You ready? You’re set. Let’s novel. {page 117}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – particularly for new writers. If you benefit from surfing Tumblr or Pinterest for character creation tips and the like, then this book has a decent collection of worksheets to help you out. This workbook would also be a great help with pre-planning your novel, doing the outlining and world building required to get started.

Advertisements

Resource Review: “Create Your Writer Platform” by Chuck Sambuchino

Resource Review: “Create Your Writer Platform” by Chuck Sambuchino

sambuchino

Full Title: Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author

Author: Chuck Sambuchino

Published: November 2012 by Writer’s Digest Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Web Development & Design, Social Media, Business Technology

Edition Details: 248 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

It’s going to sound silly as I write out a blog post that will be shared across various social media channels, but… this book had me both intrigued and a bit leery. I’m not into the Influencer culture, the idea of success being measured by social media reach. However, I recognize that I follow people I like online; they’ve built the kind of communities and online interactions that leave you feeling good when they’re done. So clearly, a writer can benefit from using social media to interact with their readers, other writers, and the bookdragons of the world at large.

Positive Bits

Sambuchino made a lot of sense in his instructions. He gave concrete measures for recognizing successful social media platform creation, rather than generalizing. I like numbers and goals; it’s part of why I like NaNoWriMo’s 50K in 30 days, because it’s a concrete goal and timeline. This book has many examples of ways to track your platform growth.

My favorite suggestion (with tangible focus) was to Google yourself. If you’re the majority of the first page results, then you’re doing it right when it comes to social media and building a platform. I’ve done it, and my years of blogging and sharing poems have led to a large number of my posts coming up in Google Images in particular. It’s kind of neat!

I also appreciated the recognition of how important community can be. You don’t have to be a writer all alone; in fact, online writing groups can be ridiculously helpful in giving you inspiration, constructive criticism, and opportunities to give back.

Less Enjoyable Bits

A large portion of the advice in this book focused on the kinds of writers who want to run in certain circles. The authors who give paid speeches in various conventions and college events. The writers who become a household name in their field.

The focus made on networking made sense, but sometimes it pushed the boundaries of realistic choices for a person to make. For example, Sambuchino mentions working in your desired field (in relation to nonfiction writers) even if it means accepting a pay cut. That’s not terrible advice… except people who are already scraping by paycheck to paycheck can’t just switch jobs for fun. No one needs to actually choose to become a starving artist to succeed.

I felt like the section on Facebook usage was oddly out-of-date for such a recently published book. I’ve had pages for various groups and topics over the past decade, and you don’t have to friend people to interact with them on a page you manage. So the entire description of how to use Facebook effectively was out of sync with the reality of Facebook.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

You don’t have to go it alone.

Creating a large and effective platform from scratch is, to say the least, a daunting task. But you don’t have to swim out in the ocean alone. You can – and are encouraged to – work with others. {page 40}

You can only best understand and help members of your niche/community if you’re heavily involved with them. Your goal is to join and participate in any kind of community that links you with those who share your interests – and by participate I’m talking meaningful interaction, not status updates on Facebook that tell people to buy your book. {page 66}

Create content with passion and gusto, and build a community around yourself. The goal is simply to create a huge readership and to help that some of that visibility translates to book sales. No double it will, though exact numbers will be difficult to come by. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you don’t know where to start with social media and all the online mumbo jumbo associated with marketing yourself and your writing. Be warned, though, that this book is largely focused on how a nonfiction writer gets attention. The tips and tricks can crossover, but they don’t always translate into fiction work.

Fiction Review: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Fiction Review: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

summers

Full Title: Sadie

Author: Courtney Summers

Published: Upcoming Release Date – September 4, 2018 by Wednesday Books

Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense

Edition Details: 320 pages, hardcover

Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}

Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I actually ran across this book in my Facebook feed, as an ad that asked interested readers to sign up for a copy. Mind you, I assumed it’d be a drawing for a handful of lucky people. Instead, I got an email telling me to be ready for my copy to arrive in the mail!

That said, I will point out that I didn’t request a copy just because I wanted a free book. I was intrigued by the first lines I read about Sadie:

I’m going to kill a man.

I’m going to steal the light from his eyes.

I want to watch it go out.

You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.

Positive Bits

As someone who normally reads romance and fantasy novels, I wasn’t sure a thriller (YA or not) would be up my alley. I was wrong! The pace and storyline are set in such a way that I think almost anyone could enjoy it. After all, my main complaint against thrillers and true crime stories is usually related to an overabundance of graphic detail; Summers managed to avoid that without minimizing the core crimes at play in this plot.

I’m a sucker for interesting new ways to tell a story. In Sadie this plays out in a pattern of interwoven podcast scripts and chapters in Sadie’s perspective (written in first person). It kept me tied up in the story without having to give me too many nitty gritty details all at once. It actually reminded me of episodes from true crime shows, where the narrator gets you interested and then they reenact different sections of their story as the episode plays out.

I’ll be honest. This book is the kind of story that I personally end up hate-reading. Like, I absolutely despised what was happening, but I had to know how things turned out. I love a story that’s strong enough to drag you in against your will and make you stay.

Less Enjoyable Bits

There were times I was a little frustrated with the limitations of a Sadie POV scene, because it would end abruptly and not pick up at the same point the next time we rejoined her. Most of the switches were spaced in acceptable moments of flux, like getting back on the road or getting a new piece of information. But one or two just seemed to leave the reader hanging for no good reason.

I’m trying not to give any spoilers, so I’ll just say this. Even a well-written story about a bad man doing bad things to people involves a bad man doing bad things to people. It turns your stomach, as it should. Nothing was graphic, but as a reader less accustomed to thrillers and their bookish kin, parts of the story made me uncomfortable in a way I’m not used to experiencing.

My last note? I like my stories to end with every single string of plot tied into a tidy knot. But that’s a personal preference.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

Girls go missing all the time.

Restless teenage girls, reckless teenage girls. Teenage girls and their inevitable drama.

West McCray [Studio]:

I spent the weekend with my daughter and she could tell something was wrong. I didn’t want to let her out of my sight, but at the same time, I almost couldn’t bear to look at her.

But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.

It can drive us.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you’re into thrillers and crime shows. I wouldn’t read this book again, at least not the same way I read and reread my favorite romance stories. But I’m definitely recommending this book to my wife, whose growing collection of true crime novels could use a new addition.

Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

Full Title: The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience

wendig

Author: Chuck Wendig

Published: November 2014 by Writer’s Digest Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing Skills, Authorship, Creative Writing & Composition

Edition Details: 282 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I’d seen Pinterest pins of various quotes from this book, particularly during the NaNoWriMo season. Considering his mouth (foul words and verbal slaps in the face), I knew I’d likely be both amused and annoyed with Wendig’s style.

Positive Bits

I love lists! A list forces a writer to be concise and to really make sense of their thoughts. Listmaking is one of my favorite writing tools, both for vague story outlines and for stretching my creative writing muscles.

Between the jokes and silly metaphors, Wendig built a legitimate collection of writing tips I think any author could benefit from. Actually, I love the fact that the book’s lists make quoting Wendig’s points so easy! After all, every statement is numbered.

Wendig’s voice is approachable. There is no master-student dynamic in this book. Instead, he gives you that smartass friend who’s telling you all about his opinions. If nonfiction usually bores you to tears, it’s likely due to a teacher’s tone being used throughout the text. Some people just learn better from peers.

Less Enjoyable Bits

One list is fun. A dozen lists can still be entertaining. But 282 pages of lists? I’m sure it made writing the book itself much easier, but lists with the exact same format can get a bit mind-numbing.

Wendig ended up with a lot of repetition and contradiction between his lists. For example, he discussed how a plot generally needs a beginning, middle, and end on a list only to repeat that point again on another list a few pages later (maybe with a new joke). At the same time, he’d mention how you have to know how the story ends, except that you don’t have to know until you get there, but be sure to write the ending first, unless you don’t. It was a little frustrating.

I think that Wendig’s humor is best ingested in small amounts, like rich chocolate cake. Too much, and you just get sick of it. To be fair, though, I expected to end up feeling this way by the end of the book; I follow his blog, so I’m well aware of his voice and how I react to it.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Stop Running Away: Right here is your story. Your manuscript. Your career. So why are you running in the other direction? Your writing will never chase you – you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, pursue it.

{page 53}

Stories Have Power: Outside the air we breathe and the blood in our bodies, the one thing that connects us modern humans today with the shamans and emperors and serfs and alien astronauts of our past is a heritage – a lineage – of stories. Stories move the world at the same time they explain our place in it. They help us understand ourselves and those near to us. Never treat a story as a shallow, wan little thing. A good story is as powerful as the bullet fired from an assassin’s gun. {page 21}

[On why you write]

You do it because you love it.

You do it because you want to be read.

You tell stories because you’re a storyteller. And because stories matter. {page 277}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – but check out his blog terribleminds first to get a taste of his style. I’m not sure I’d purchase this book full price, but seeing it on a used shelf for a few bucks? Sure. To each their own preferences.

Resource Review: “Breathing In, Breathing Out” by Ralph Fletcher

Full Title: Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

fletcher

Author: Ralph Fletcher

Published: November 18, 1996 by Heinemann

Genres: Nonfiction, Reference, Studying, Language & Grammar

Edition Details: 112 pages, trade paperback

Source: Purchased – Used

Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

Approaching this book, I made special concessions to its age. Written in 1996, this book was guaranteed to use a different style and voice than modern writing guides; after all, it’s over two decades old!

That said, it surprised me that the book is labeled for ages 5-17 on Amazon. Skimming through the pages, I wouldn’t think of it being aimed any earlier than middle or high school. Maybe a teacher could translate it for easier use?

Positive Bits

As someone who uses a digital journal (outside of this blog) to ramble on and on, Fletcher’s ideas about how to develop a writer’s notebook validate my own practices. It’s one thing to know a process works for you; it’s another to have someone else give you multiple examples of famous authors who do the same process for the same reasons.

I’ve always had a hard time at conceptualizing a writer’s notebook as a whole. I have Pinterest boards with writing quotes and story prompts, but they’re separate from my Google Drive folder of story ideas and scene snippets. While I prefer a digitized “notebook”, Fletcher’s explanations and examples left me intrigued enough to consider switching (at least in part) to a physical notebook.

The sections break the idea of a writer’s notebook into manageable pieces. I appreciate how often he reminds us to play with words until they come naturally, especially in the beginning.

Fletcher’s personal samples of older writings are painful… and yet painfully familiar! We all stumble through writing while we find our voice. One of the challenges (and joys) of looking at our older writings is finding the recyclable ideas among the rubbish.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I didn’t connect to Fletcher’s voice. From the start, I struggled to make myself read more than a handful of pages at a time. For such a short book, it took me two (2!) whole months to finally get to the end.

Fletcher is clearly a poet. We often get caught up in metaphors and imagery when it’s less than helpful. I feel like many of his chapters were weighed down by odd amounts of poetic prose and awkward word choice.

He turned me off when he started complaining about writing prompts and those who swear by them. It felt too much like writer’s elitism, like he’s just too good for such trivial writing exercises. (To be fair, Fletcher moved past that later in the same section, but the impression lingered.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Writing puts you in a state of ‘constant composition,’ and this is particularly true of writing in a notebook. Regular notebook writing acts as a wakeup call, a daily reminder to keep all your senses alert. This starts a cycle that reinforces itself. Writing down small details gets you in the habit of seeking out the important small things in your world. These details in turn often lead you to new material you never knew you had. {page 19}

It’s not that I try to write badly in my notebook. But I know I will be doing exactly that, just like countless other writers before me. If you read the notebooks of famous writers you’ll find some wonderful writing, sure enough, but you’ll also find pages and pages of stuff that is surprisingly boring and tedious. In a strange sort of way I find this comforting and even inspiring. {page 56}

The notebook is the place to take care of the writer inside you. To keep the writing flame lit amid the winds of indifference. This is important because nobody else will care about your writing as much as you. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

No – at least not at the prices I’ve seen online. The list price is $25, but even the cheaper (used) options are about $6 after shipping. I bought this book used on a dollar book day at our local Half Price Books, so it was probably worth the buck.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit: A Treasure Chest of Tools, Tips, and Righteous Gear to Help You Bash Out a Novel in a Month

baty2

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2006 by Chronicle Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing & Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 48 pages, trade paperback – kit also includes a calendar, daily inspiration cards, coupons and peptalk letters, and the Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith

Source: {Purchased – New}

Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know I reviewed the original NaNoWriMo book, but I happened to get this kit on clearance at Barnes & Noble somewhere along the way as well. I’ll be brief, as there are few thoughts about this kit that don’t align with my review of the 2004 book.

Positive Bits

Humor is still Baty’s key approach, and it fit well with the pacing of this smaller kit’s book. The activities mentioned as similar to those in the core book, but this kit focuses on the basic details and leaves the actual accomplishment of each activity up to the writer.

I enjoyed the titles and descriptions of people who you might invite to join you. Instead of just suggesting family and friends, Baty takes the time to explain archetypes for each kind of person. A fellow writer. A challenge taker. A book group(ie).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Honestly, there’s a clear echo. The mini book in this kit would easily take the place of purchasing the full No Plot? No Problem! if you were choosing between A or B. You’re losing the history of NaNoWriMo and some depth to the exercises offered, but the basic explanation and guidance for writing a novel in a month are still present.

However, this kit really is the bare bones of NaNoWriMo guidance. It’s good… but not very different from just reading bits and pieces of the peptalk emails you get from NaNoWriMo’s website during November.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith {throughout}

[I just really love the over-the-top name!]

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think the kit has been on the clearance shelves of Barnes & Noble for the past year or so. But even at full price, this kit is just playful enough to get you going on your NaNoWriMo adventure. Also, there’s just something extra enjoyable about using a kit rather than just referencing a book.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

baty

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2004 by Chronicle Books (apparently I got a used first edition)

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing &  Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 176 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

Let’s be real. As someone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo for years, I was destined to enjoy this book. My only first glance impression was that my edition might be quite different from whatever’s being sold now (14 years later). Actually, my wife’s joked about buying me the newest 2014 expanded edition just so I can compare the two!

Positive Bits

Humor is often hit and miss. Baty found a good balance, I think, in using generalized jokes and dorky humor throughout the book, all without crossing the line into anything questionable (i.e. sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

One activity I loved the idea of is the Magna Carta (and Magna Carta II). The short version is that you make a list of things you love in a story (I) and things you can’t stand (II). Those lists then serve as a guide when you feel a bit listless or lost in your plot. I’ve done this activity before (calling it “reader research”), and I think it’s a marvelous way to really discover both preferences and skills.

The language of this book (and concepts presented) never aim over the head of anyone who can read a chapter book. I think a middle schooler could get just as much use and enjoyment out of this book as their grandparent. Baty’s voice is conversational enough to make reading each chapter feel like a chat over coffee (or cocoa).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Every single time Baty directs the reader to take full advantage of company supplies or time, I cringe. Maybe that worked a decade ago, but many companies now record all emails sent and received (for legal reasons). Personal documents aren’t actually personal. So aside from the questionable ethics of not working at work, you have the reality that today’s companies will be far less naive about your digital activities (and printing). That said, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone can lend more honest opportunities to write on breaks and lunch (while avoiding company resources and time).

This book doesn’t include a lot of suggestions on your process itself. It covers the basics of your word count, your timeline, and then a weekly breakdown of how (he assumes) you’ll feel as the event goes forward. Small stories and side notes from previous NaNoWriMo participants help mediate this absence, but it still left me a little disappointed.

Baty wrote for non-writers. His pep talks and advice are ideal for them… and less useful for the rest of us. I think writers need a different approach, largely because we have a familiarity with the process that also makes us more nervous about success versus failure.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. it’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen. {page 14}

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. {page 86}

[Talking about people playing sports or videos games for fun on weekends, not to become famous]

They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good.  They do it because they like to compete, because they like spending time with friends, because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel-writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair. {page 172}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d even buy this book at full price, and I rarely do that with any book. While I didn’t get as much active assistance from this book as I’d hoped, the history of NaNoWriMo and its bare bones fascinated me.

Book Reviews – in the works

I’m becoming an expert at disappearing for months at a time. Sorry! Consider this an update on my projects, writing goals, and life stuff.

Life Stuff

Last year, I became unemployed in August and spent a month trying to figure out what to do with my life once a terrible retail job was no longer in the picture.

As a result, I poked my nose into Booktube, put together another poetry book, and found a job I enjoyed doing. Working an office job with salary (and amazing benefits) has removed so much stress from my life… and that’s directly evident in my projects and goals since last summer.

To be fair, I disappeared after October… because I started that new job in October. Not a big surprise. I quietly participated in NaNoWriMo 2017 and continued on other writing projects, but I guess I just gave myself some time to adjust to a bazillion changes all at once.

Writing Goals

Since publishing my last poetry book, I’ve been taking a more serious look at my fiction and nonfiction writing projects from previous years. I’m finally in a good place to focus on rewrites and editing and all that other “fun” stuff.

I intend to publish another poetry book by the end of 2018, but other than that, I’m letting a bunch of ideas percolate in the background.

Projects

Aside from writing, I’ve made a focused effort to read through more books we own. I’m writing detailed book reviews for some nonfiction books (mostly books about writing books), and I’ll be sharing those soon. Pinky promise!

Resource reviews are important to me, because some people (like me) can’t stand the idea of investing money in nonfiction books unless they know the book is really worth the coin. Most of mine are used books, but I figure an honest opinion can help others who might be considering a $20 purchase.

 

Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures – book release!

Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, by Larissa Lee

[paperback] [ebook]

My newest poetry collection Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures has officially been published! This book is a pagan-themed look into my thoughts on mythology and modern life, as well as the magic of the simple things around us.

Here’s a peek at the back cover description:

[all things start with a seed] 

 

when you look at a field full of dandelion puffs 
do you see wishes or weeds? 
magic or just seeds? 
I see dozens of flowers nobody wanted 
who choose to bloom anyway 

 

In this case, the seed was a promise to write at least one poem every day for a year. I figured the odds were on my side; they couldn’t all end up lame, right?

 

Imagine my surprise when a field full of poems sprouted!

 

Between daydreams and moonbeams, I’ve woven poetry out of my favorite myths and fairytales. Every flower (and every poem) is beautiful in its own way, but this particular collection is focused on putting magic into words.

 

I played dandelion and scattered these poems across the pagers with no real rhyme or reason. Enjoy the ride, and land wherever the wind takes you.

Dandelions are my favorite flowers. Seriously!

I’ve posted some of these poems before through my blogs and social media, and I will likely do so again and again. Poetry is made for sharing with others. If you choose to pass my words around to your friends and family, I’m all for it!

I appreciate every single like, share, and purchase. A middle schooler used one of my poems for a school project just last month, and it was mind-blowing and awesome and just… wow. Nothing makes a creator feel better than having others enjoy their creations.